President's final tab for Fla. recount battle unclear

$7.1 million raised so far

some legal fees unpaid

April 17, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has raised more than $7 million to fight the Florida recount battle that upheld his claim to the White House, but millions of dollars in legal fees remain unpaid nearly four months later.

Bush officials refused to reveal the final tab for the 40 days of legal combat that raged through election boards, a series of state courts and twice went to the Supreme Court. And many of the lawyers who submitted bills totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars concede that they may never be paid.

Some ethics watchdogs criticized the secrecy surrounding the millions of dollars in debts and funding that helped to make Bush's presidency possible.

One unanswered question is whether Theodore Olson of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher worked for free when he argued Bush's case before the Supreme Court, or whether his tab is pending.

Olson is the president's pick for U.S. solicitor general.

Lawyers at two law firms said they are owed about $1.7 million combined, but spokesmen for several other firms referred questions to Bush campaign attorney Benjamin L. Ginsberg.

Ginsberg would not disclose any recount funding details -- what bills have been paid, for example, or whether any of the $7.1 million is left or new fund raising is under way.

"I'm the man, but I have absolutely no desire to talk about it. Recount's over. Go away," he said before hanging up the phone.

One key Bush lawyer said his "understanding is they're still in the process now of raising the money."

"Any financial relationship with a client really is their business," said Fred Bartlit, whose firm, Bartlit Beck, spent weeks on the case.

Other attorneys were more open.

"We're all kind of waiting ... to see whether we get paid or not," said Daryl Bristow of Baker Botts, a Texas law firm headed by Bush's recount chief, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

He estimated that Baker Botts' fees were "somewhere knocking up against or over $1 million."

But Bristow, whose firm received $80,000 for expenses, said he got plenty from the experience.

"That's a very substantial contribution of time, obviously, so I hope over time they'll be able to raise some money," he said. "If it doesn't happen ... it was an important enough time in history for me that I'm satisfied. ... I hope my partners are going to understand."

The Gore campaign also ran up millions in bills and had raised at least $3 million to pay them off. But much of its legal talent was donated, officials said.

"The vast majority of our work was pro bono," said Gore legal strategist Ron Klain. An aide to Gore campaign counsel Lyn Utrecht said the only information about the Gore recount financing was provided yesterday in a filing with the Internal Revenue Service.

Al Gore's campaign did generally pay or reimburse living expenses and paid some attorneys' fees -- including some who had volunteered.

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